You may know me best from a galaxy far, far away, but I’ve seen an even wilder place—the savannas of Botswana, where I went on safari back in the early ’90s. The trip actually started in Sun City, South Africa, where I was cohosting the Miss World contest. I had a contract with Motown and Berry Gordy, who was making films at the time, and this was all part of the job. Not a bad gig, but I’ll be honest: Even with all the girls, I found the contest kind of boring.
After that is when the fun started. My wife, my manager and his wife, and a couple of people from Motown flew out to Botswana, and that safari is still one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve ever had. Each morning we’d get up at around dawn and pile into a Land Rover and spend the day, from sunrise to sunset, out in the bush. I have to say, those Land Rovers are pretty spectacular—they do anything, any kind of terrain.
Botswana is very raw, and you definitely get apprehensive being in an open vehicle surrounded by wild animals. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. You wonder why these animals don’t attack you! We’d get as close as 10 feet to them, and they wouldn’t do anything. I don’t know how they view the vehicle, except as something that they don’t trespass. It helped that the guides knew these animals very well. We had two guides—a black African and a white Englishman—and they carried only one weapon, a rifle. That was all. It was nerve-racking, because we didn’t know what was going to happen, but the guides seemed to know just how close you can go in terms of confronting the wild creatures.
Name an animal and we encountered it. It was just like what you’d see on National Geographic—pure, raw, immediate. We’d see the impalas, then we’d see the giraffes, the
elephants, the buffaloes. We chased around a leopard that was looking for food, and we saw baboons going across the savanna. One of the most interesting things was
seeing a dead animal and watching the buzzards come in. They seemed to come from nowhere. There was a kind of mystery about the whole experience. And then the lions came in and kind of bullied everybody away from the carcass. All of the animals seemed to know their place. There’s a kind of social contract, and everybody knows where they should be—until they get really hungry.
At the end of each day, we would go back to the lodge. My daughter and her husband went on safari in Kenya, and they actually slept in tents, but we were in a very nice, luxurious kind of abode. The food was excellent—I remember having the impala, which was pretty good, like venison. We ended each night socializing, just talking about the day. We were all fascinated by what we had witnessed.
If you ever have the opportunity, it’s a trip you should take. It’s an experience you really can’t explain, because it’s so overwhelming. You suddenly see life in a way that you’ve never seen it before.
Billy Dee Williams reprises his role as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, which will be released on December 20.